Nature Lamp Part 1: Disco Toadstool

This new project is part of a series of lamps inspired by shapes found in nature. Because each project teaches me something new and behaves as a prototype in its own right I’m going to break away from the usual format that my fans (all three of them!) love. I will provide a rough explanation of how the lamps were made, what went well, and what did not, along with  background information about the organism it’s supposed to imitate. My hope is that by the end of this the posts will provide a variety of methods for a variety of designs, as opposed to how to make a single design. So without further ado, the Disco Toadstool…

The fly agaric; a short history

If I told you to think of a mushroom, the first image that would likely appear in your mind would be a white stem topped with a red cap decorated with wrinkly white spots. This image is of the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), an abundant and visually appealing mushroom which inhabits natural grasses and forest edges, and primarily emerges during autumn.

Licensed for reuse without modification under Creative Commons

Due to its eye catching colors, great abundance, and hallucinogenic effects, it has held an important place in the mythology of many cultures since at least 1500 BC, thought to be the ancient drug Soma described in the Aryan Rig-Veda. In ancient European culture it was associated with fairies and elves, which carried through to the 1900s; the Smurfs, treasured characters created by Belgian cartoonist and illustrator Pierre Culliford, lived in houses that are similar to the fly agaric. Very recently it has also been celebrated in the game Super Mario Bros., where it is used as a power-up.

Its psychoactive properties have continued to be celebrated among the modern psychedelic scene, where it is depicted in a wide range of psychedelic artwork as well as being used as a symbol in the community. This association with both magic and art is in part what inspired this particular project.

Original Colorful Mushroom by plurity

Licensed for reuse without modification under Creative Commons


Click here to see a scan of the design I originally wrote out. But as per usual I digressed at least a little from the original design. I made the form from a plastic bag filled with torn paper balls and wrapped around with tape.

Onto this was placed paper mache, then cloth mache. The correct holes were then cut and the correct shapes were made. Hot glue was used to add details to the veil and seal the edges.

The form was removed and gesso was placed on the cap and veil and coarse paper clay was placed on the stem. The resultant pieces were painted as is appropriate, and given three layers of clear matte varnish both inside and outside.

The spots were made by gluing small pieces of flexible PVC to the inside under the holes and piling hot glue on the outside that would later be wrinkled to give a more natural effect. The original plan to make the gills was to use clear flexible PVC cut into isosceles trapezoids and glued together; either the calculations, or the process of making these was a bit off and the results were unappealing. Instead I opted for the same method I used to make the spots, this time frosting the inside of a large PVC circle and laying varying thicknesses of hot glue glue on it to make the effect of gills.

Both the details on the veil and the gills are visible

The lamp cable was grommeted and passed through the hole. The mains plug and light socket were wired up. The special remote controlled LED bulb was then mounted in a hole in the middle of the gills, then screwed into the light socket, holding the veil in place with the tension of the chord. Finally each section was glued in place permanently.

What went well

  • The alternative method of making gills looks better than the original plan.
  • The shell is robust, water resistant, and and correctly weighted.
  • The light bulb used is cold and efficient, lasts basically forever, is remote controlled, and has a myriad of colors and functions (flash, strobe, fade, constant, and smooth).
  • The color and texture are natural and attractive.
  • The wrinkly hot glue mounds look really natural and are very visually appealing.

What I could improve

Here’s a list of what went wrong and how I could improve it next time:

  • The glue didn’t stick to the PVC quite as well as I wanted it to. Lightly roughing up the surface with sandpaper or a wire brush might help.
  • A series of folds appeared in areas of extreme curvature, which couldn’t be smoothed out. It would be sensible to use smaller more frayed patches of cloth to reduce the occurrence of these folds.

Two folds clearly visible in bottom right

  • The brush strokes from the frosting process were visually confusing, and should have radiated out from the center of the gills to give a more natural and symmetric effect.
  • The grommet was a slightly incorrect size and had to be glued in place to prevent slippage. A slightly larger grommet should be used.
  • The polygon meshes of PVC which were to become the gills didn’t fold to the correct size. A CAD mesh mapping software such as the Mesh Workbench of FreeCAD should be used to get accurate sizes.
  • The base of the stem wasn’t as wrinkly as in nature. Perhaps balls of paper clay should be used.
  • Some people complained that the cap is too dark a color, but this is an intentional decision since the red color of the cap has to be darker than the brightest possible red the light produces. Perhaps next time I’ll go significantly lighter instead to see how that turns out.
  • There is no closed base, meaning the wiring is somewhat exposed. Next time I’ll cut a wooden disk to the correct shape and size and glue it in place.


As you all know, the stem was not gessoed or painted. As a result, the previously bleached cellulose fibers used to make the paper clay for the stem have gradually started returning to their natural yellowy color. I STRONGLY suggest that you either paint it, gesso it, or do both! Unfortunately, the next project in the series has been postponed due to other commitments. Keep checking back though!